race in america

Facing Up to Our Broken Covenants

Broken fence. Image courtesy mervas/shutterstock.com

Broken fence. Image courtesy mervas/shutterstock.com

Lent is our season of honesty. It is a time when we may break out of our illusions to face the reality of our life in preparation for Easter, a radical new beginning.

When, through this illusion-breaking homework, we connect with reality, we see that in our society the fabric of human community is almost totally broken. One glaring evidence of such brokenness is the current unrelieved tension between police and citizens in Ferguson, Missouri.

That tension is rooted in very old racism. It also reflects the deep and growing gap between “the ownership class” that employs the police and those who have no serious access to ownership who become victims of legalized violence.

This is one frontal manifestation of “the covenant that they broke,” as referred to in the Jeremiah text for this week: a refusal of neighborly solidarity that leads, with seeming certitude, to disastrous social consequences.

Of course the issue is not limited to Ferguson but is massively systemic in U.S. society. The brokenness consists not so much in the actual street violence perpetrated in that unequal contest. The brokenness is that such brutalizing force is accepted as conventional, necessary, and routine. It is a policy and a practice of violence acted out as “ordinary” that indicates a complete failure of neighborly imagination.

Lent is a time for honesty that may disrupt the illusion of well-being that is fostered by the advocates of indulgent privilege and strident exceptionalism that disregards the facts on the ground. Against such ideological self-sufficiency, the prophetic tradition speaks of the brokenness of the covenant that makes healthy life possible.

As long as there is denial and illusion, nothing genuinely new can happen. But when reality is faced — in this case the reality of a failed covenant between legal power and vulnerable citizens — new possibility becomes imaginable.

Raising Black Boys in America: An Interview With Leroy Barber

Father and son embrace. Photo courtesy stefanolunardi/shutterstock.com

Father and son embrace. Photo courtesy stefanolunardi/shutterstock.com

Howard Thurman says three things, in Jesus and the DisinheritedOne — God is on the side of the oppressed and the poor. Know that God is on your side. Two — Dishonesty takes you out of the conversation. And if you live an honest life, if you have integrity, you can sit at the table. In areas of race, people look for holes in your character as excuses for you not to be at the table. Three — Hate is useless. Don’t let hate sink into your soul, because hate will destroy you. And respond with love even if it’s hard. So I try to teach my boys that, and raise them that way.